Monday, December 19, 2011

Update on Answering Prayers

From the moment Sadie appeared on a positive pregnancy test, I knew that she was an answer to prayers. And yet, she arrived months after I had actually stopped praying and trying for a baby. It isn't that I had 'given up' really. But something in me had just sealed off the possibility. Then one night in June, Mark and I were at the Christening for a good friend's second child and when we were walking back through a golf course to where our car was parked, Mark was very contemplative about it all. So we stood there and had this matter-a-fact discussion where he articulated that he wasn't ready to give up hope entirely. I felt like I had been socked in the stomach (you readers can admit it... you were thinking that the walk back was going to lead to some hanky panky in a sand dune or something... :) ). I told him "I can't pray anymore Mark - it just wasn't working." But somehow in this conversation (I admit I had a few glasses of wine at this Christening reception), I agreed to being open to a baby. And two weeks later, with no planning or intervention, Sadie was conceived.

I think there are times when the best thing is to pray for a specific outcome. Sometimes, it does work! For example, my friend Janet's son prayed for a trip to Disneyworld and the very next day, he won a trip to Disneyworld for their family of 4!  The night after my secretary called me and told me that I just needed to pray to God for a new nanny and he would answer me, we got an email from a friend who told us about Tyler who is our current nanny. She is the human embodiment of an answer to our prayers. And so, my inclination is to pray for the solution that I want. Except... what to do when you don't know what you want?

I have learned recently that those are times when the best thing is to pray is that your heart  open.

And this is the prayer that I believe has finally been answered with Sadie's birthmark.


Here is my girl just a few hours old. You can barely see it now but the nurse who held her first and handed her to me saw it right away, a little red dot and a halo around it on her left cheek "This is probably a hemangioma, which is a strawberry birthmark" she told us.
In the picture with the white sweater on the left is Sadie when she was just about six weeks old - it was one of her first real smiles and I was diligent about catching it on camera. The birthmark that was just a spot at birth had grown to be heart shaped. The pediatrician told us to watch and wait it out as it would disappear in a few years. But Mark was traveling to Houston a lot during my maternity leave and I just dove into an obsession about this thing.  I would spend hours and hours searching the Internet for more information, and got very scared.  Some hemangiomas can grow to be very large and very disfiguring and I wanted an answer on Sadie's right then.

Our pediatrician agreed to refer us to a pediatric dermatologist in Richmond and I called her that moment, when she was six weeks old, and was told that she was booked out for a month. Time was critical I told her, the hemangioma was growing every week.

They squeezed me in when she was eight weeks old and Sadie had her first laser treatment on her birthmark. I will never forget when the dermatologist said "I wish we had seen her earlier because we could have lasered it before it really grew."  My mother guilt for not pushing harder!  Sadie tolerated three laser treatments very well.  The surface birthmark stopped growing and started the very slow process of "involution" which basically means fading and shrinking. They key word for us, though, was slow.


And then there is the picture in the Hawaiian outfit on the right (sent from Hawaii and Aunt Carolyn) - she was six months old. The bump underneath (called a subcutaneous hemangioma) was evident  and while an ultrasound revealed it was not pressing her eye orbit, there was nothing more that we could do other than find a surgeon who would operate on it. There are some of those surgeons in New York who would do this, though it was a purely cosmetic surgery.  Mark and I thought about it, prayed about it, but just couldn't accept the multitude of risks that such a surgery presented. So we decided to wait and watch it.

Every few weeks, then months, and then barely once a year it seems... I would spend several hours diving into more Internet research. I would revisit our decision to wait and wonder if we shouldn't be more aggressive.  We saw our dermatologist every six months who would photograph it and tell us how it had changed, and tell us that eventually it will be the right time to do surgery. And when Sadie was about two and a half, an experimental treatment drug evolved called Propranolol, which was a beta blocker. Babies who were part of the first trials were admitted to ICU to administer the drug and monitor its affect on blood pressure.  But Sadie was too old for it -- the drug only helps to stop a growing hemangioma from... growing. Sadie's had already stopped growing and the beta blocker would have no effect on shrinking her surface or subcutaneous birthmark. I felt like we had missed a critical boat.

But our lovely girl was continuing to grow and her personality was not fearful, or embarrassed, or self critical. The more chocolate in a picture, the better! And the gift of a best friend, with an identical birthmark and similarly not-shy personality, sealed the deal. These were not unhappy days. They were not stress filled or days of second guessing. These were days of joy.








How long could we be guaranteed to live in our bubble, though, I sometimes wondered. Every medical professional that we would see from about the age of three on, from regular pediatricians to ENTs to surgeons to dermatologists, all agreed that the birthmark should be removed before kindergarten starts. The beta blocker had changed the landscape for birthmarks... they were now being treated more and more right after birth. The old statistic that about 10% of kids would have a hemangioma, and this was more common in girls born early of older mothers (our three elements), was changing. All of the sudden, these same doctors that told us to be patient were now saying "You are going to look at having it removed, right?"

I couldn't count on my hands and feet the number of times they would say "Kids can be cruel." and that was that. And while I resisted this advice, part of me was ready too. I hated hearing the comments... and those were just the ones that I was around to hear!  One set of grandparents would say "don't do anything and watch it fade beta blocker " and I would resent that because they hadn't read the Internet research that indicated that it wouldn't fade or shirk any further. And then the other set of grandparents would say "you should look into the surgery" and I would resent that too because they hadn't read the Internet research indicated the risk of bleeding and tough scar placement. I got back to researching it to death and got frustrated when Mark didn't want to read all the links I would send him and didn't want to talk about what to do all hours of the night. And when he did voice an opinion, I would resent that too "You aren't with her enough to hear all the comments, I am!" I would say back at him. Part of me was ready, and part of me was 180 degrees from ready. No one had the right answer for me and I was frustrated.

I didn't know what to pray for.

So we went to see a surgeon a few weeks ago. And he was the opposite of wishy-washy and told us, in front of Sadie, that we needed to operate and here is how he would handle it. The visit was less than 12 minutes and I walked out shell-shocked. I would have been fine with this guy operating on me -- it is kind of like picking out kitchen appliances, I am perfectly fine with letting someone else make tough decisions and me not getting involved in too many details. But this was Sadie. And I was not feeling right about this.

Again, what do I pray for?  Clarity. A few people told me that - and it was eye opening. "I pray that it becomes clear what to do."  What??  Really??

So I took their advice. And I stopped praying that I would have the strength to schedule the surgery. And I stopped praying that I would have the strength to resist societal pressures to have the surgery. I sent a last email to a wonderful vascular birthmark foundation that I had communicated with over the years to ask if they had any advice on questions to ask surgeons about their techniques. And I wept when she wrote back and sent along information along with saying this "I want to applaud you on how you have raised your daughter."  It was a reminder that what we did for the last four and a half years was right for us and shouldn't be revisited. Sure I could have found a surgeon to take it off when she was a baby and we wouldn't be going through this ordeal now. But somewhere in that birthmark was a lesson for mother and daughter and I am glad that I was learning it.

We did the right thing. For more than four and a half years, we have done the right thing. And if we are open to it, we will do the right thing again. I started to pray for clarity. I stopped praying that I would make the right choice. I prayed that the right choice would just appear.

We went to see a new surgeon on last Friday afternoon. I had scheduled the appointment a few months ago, at the same time that I scheduled the appointment with the surgeon that we saw a few weeks ago. Both of these surgeons had been recommended by our pediatric dermatologist two years ago. None of my earlier paperwork made it to this appointment, and we had to wait almost an hour to be seen. It wasn't starting off too well.

But... it was remarkable. The moment we walked into the consultation room (3 couches facing each other, and a million toys on the fourth side for Sadie to play with), we knew she was the right person. Her whole explanation of what she wanted to do and how the anesthetic would work was understandable. Every question I asked her was responded to with "That's a great question" followed by her explanation. She is a few years younger than me and I can honestly say, I have never trusted someone more. She has a different way of approaching the birthmark and will focus on removing portions of the bump underneath more than the surface mark, allowing the surface mark some more time to fade and possibly respond to more laser treatments. The bump underneath is now a fatty mass and needs to be removed, but she will make a much smaller incision which will leave a smaller scar. No external stitches -- yay for derma-glue-- and the internal ones will dissolve. She predicts surgery of under an hour. And the technique for the anesthetic will affect short term memory "so your child will never remember that you weren't there the whole time". Their most important goal is that the child doesn't have negative associations with surgery. While she can't make promises because she hasn't seen what is under the skin, she is not worried about the size of the mass underneath or about blood loss. You can tell that she isn't flip or pomous... she has done these surgeries before and is happy to share her experience.  

Mark and I walked out on the same page with huge smiles on our faces. Our nanny Tyler (who had been with the other surgeon's appointment too) looked at us with the same expression "Wow!"  As I drove Sadie home, Sadie said "I want to do that surgery."  And I said "That's great, you mean -- are you saying that you want to have the surgery?" And she was quiet for a minute and then said "That's not what I said Mommy, I said I want to do the surgery... I want to be that kind of doctor and do that kind of surgery."  Ahh, my special child.

It is amazing- once I stopped fretting about the choice to make, it became clear for the right thing to do.

We will ask for your prayers on the date for the operation. And if you ever have a friend or relative that has a child born with a hemangioma birthmark, have them contact me.




Tuesday, December 6, 2011

God's Plans

Mark and I are fanatical about Christmas, and we are joyfully raising Sadie in this tradition. I personally don't have a problem with Christmas decorations up in department stores in October, and I start listening to my Christmas music just before Halloween. I certainly respect others who may have a contrary practice themselves. But Mark and I, we are living examples of the refrain "We need a little Christmas, right this very minute..."  Sadie had a funny retort when a teacher once told her that it was a little bit early for her Santa shirt in October by saying "It is never too early to be thankful for Jesus' birthday." 

My own celebration of the Christmas season from October through December is not about commercialization -- rather, it is my celebration of the central tenant of my own sense of Christianity: the celebration of encounters with friends and family, creation of special moments together, snuggling and cuddling, singing and storytelling, decorating... enjoying each other and the time we have right now. The Christmas season has reminds me to be grateful for what I have. So honestly, no... I don't get sick of that prevailing spirit in my own life by the time December 25th comes around. Sure I get overwhelmed at times, and there is some exhaustion thrown in the mix (as well as sugar highs and lows). But I am more aware of the meaning of my life and the happiness in it during my extended Christmas season. I am thankful that Jesus gives me a few months to remember that.

No surprise, we have more than a dozen nativity scenes in our house. My mother started each Misage child with our own after we graduated from college, giving us just one piece a year. Mark had several, and we have gotten a few special ones since we got married. We got a wonderful wooden Haba one Sadie could play with when she was nearly two, and last year at nearly four, we let her touch some of our fragile ones. This year, she and Tyler made one from scratch.

Almost every single night since Halloween, we spend an hour "Playing Manger" in our house. Sometimes I get the role of the angel and Mark often gets to play the wise men. Sadie is nearly always Mary... and honestly, Joseph doesn't say much so Sadie just moves him along (and lets him tend to Mary, like she knows a good husband should).

Sadie is also the chief narrator, and the plot changes depending on how much time we have (and how much of a dictator she feels like being). Sometimes the wise men go to the wrong town first and the angel has to remind them to "FOLLOW THE BIG STAR" and go back to the fork in the road to find Bethlehem. Sometimes the animals are the ones to show Mary and Joseph where the best stable is instead of them going to the Inn and being turned away first. Sometimes the shepherd and the sheep beat Mary and Joseph there in the first place, and other times they have to race and cut ahead of the wise men. The wise men bring non-traditional gifts (they always have a mobile and a bowl of cherries though). The animals tend to talk more than the people in our versions. And Mary always starts by telling Joseph "I feel a little weird today" (taken from me telling Sadie the story of her own birth and me waking up the say before she was born and saying to Mark "I feel a little weird today" myself). And Sadie always makes sure that the angel always says "FEAR NOT!" in quite a loud voice (my side of the family's contribution to Sadie's physical being). She is very reassuring, in a dictatorial way.

Sadie asked me the other day "Did you pray to God every day to give you a baby before you got pregnant with me?" and I started to answer her honestly... that yes, I probably prayed to God many times every day since for over two years to get pregnant. But I stopped myself, because I need to be careful to not mislead Sadie to believe that praying for something tangible, such as another sibling, will mean it will automatically come true. So instead I told her that I prayed a lot for a baby, but I also prayed for God's will, whatever that was. And then I reminded her that we have very close friends and family members who may not have a husband, or may not have a child, but that doesn't mean that God wasn't planning something very special for them. And that it was better to not pray for the specific outcome, but instead to pray that God will show his plan to you.

Heavy lesson for a child, but our Sadie is a deep thinker.

"I wonder what God's plan is for me?" she said after a minute. I was overcome by it all, and we just looked at each other for a bit. Then she said "I bet his plan is that I will have a baby girl, and you will come take care of her for me and we will take her to lunch at Starbucks."  I grinned. The heavy moment had passed, and I said "Yes, I hope that is God's plan for you."

We have a friend that lost a child today, not yet two years old. What we thought initially was normal infant reflux turned out to be something far worse, and we have watched this family struggle for many months. In the meantime, they brought into the world another child,  but today, their first baby left them.

Gosh, it is hard to understand God's will during these times. It is really hard to look at parents burying a baby and have any comprehension of how horrific it is.

It is also hard to understand why some women get no babies, some get only one, and some get more than ten. I have read the books about why bad things happen to good people and I always conclude that God gives those that have lost something a some deeper sense of faith or strength or something, so that somehow, it doesn't hurt as much as it looks like it would. That's what I hope, at least.

On a smaller scale, that is what happened to me. I know that we have friends who look at us and think "poor Webbs, they only got to have one child" or "poor Sadie, no siblings for her."  And yet, I feel like the luckiest person in the world most nights just by having her and Mark and Daisy all in my kitchen with me.  Taking aside a few tantrums here and there, and I can tell you that I pause after conversations with Sadie daily and see how blessed I am. I lay with her every night and watch her eyes close and her dreams creep in. I would have loved more children, but I truly see how blessed I am with just one. I want for nothing except more time to enjoy her. My friend Megan gave me the best compliment that I have ever received when she wrote to me "Not a better mother with more love for her child do I know! ... your sheer delight in your precious daughter point me back to what matters. Sadie has one special mother."  (It could have only been made better by commenting that my ass was shrinking in every picture she saw of me!)

Motherhood is challenging, and it is exhausting. It is like my extended Christmas season in many ways, with its own sugar highs and lows. But I can think of nothing more rewarding than what I am doing now.  It is so clear to me that my path which once focused heavily hours and hours given to the practice of law is so better balanced now that it is driven by a commitment to my daughter, my husband, our family and friends, and myself.  While I wish that I had seen this path a little clearer in my 20's, I am glad that God didn't wait until my 60s to show it to me. Our cup, indeed, runs over.

Friday, November 18, 2011

What Makes You Special

A dear friend of mine from high school is just finishing up her maternity leave, having had her fourth daughter. This daughter was much sought after (and I am not suggesting that other children are not) since my friend is recently remarried and her other girls are tween-or-teenagers. She and I have exchanged emails about fun topics like which is the best vacuum cleaner to buy and how to get a three month old to sleep through the night.  I seem to read these emails right before I am going to sleep (note to friend, she needs to go to bed earlier herself) and this has brought back memories and reflection on our first few months of Sadie's life. She was a glorious sleeper then... we were very lucky. She was a horrid sleeper from age six months until... sometime very recently?? But yet, as I reflect on this, we are still so very lucky. I thank my friend for reminding me how special the little moments are with our children, even if they come in the middle of the night.

As we struggled with little things like when she would sleep uninterrupted (fingers crossed, she does that now), when she would walk without holding on to my finger (14 months but never even stumbled thereafter), adjusting to new nannies (we even survived a practicing witch), how she would test for kindergarten, etc., all of these challenges look so silly and small in hindsight.  Somehow in my own mind I have reconciled both my Tiger Mom and Helicopter Mom tendencies, and feel like I am a blend of each (a tiger on a helicopter, perhaps). I believe that it is my job to prepare Sadie by giving her a firm foundation and belief in herself and her skills to face the challenges of her little world, but to let her face them with her own developed skills. Thereafter I just watch in the wings and love her as hard as I can. Learning to swim was important to me, but being a star on the soccer team doesn't mean much. I tell her a million times how much we love her but I try not to tell her that she is perfect, or that we are perfect, because we aren't.

We are now at the point for deciding what to do about Sadie's birthmark.

I will never forget the moment that a nurse named Faith handed me my beautiful baby daughter after performing a C-section and said how perfect she was, then pointing to her cheek and saying "and that's probably a hemangioma strawberry birthmark, right there."  It was a little halo, almost invisible with the tears of joy streaming from my eyes. Within four weeks, it had grown to the size of a dime and was probably a quarter size and bright red by the time she started seeing a dermatologist at 10 weeks. We saw several doctors in person when she was a baby and consulted doctors over the Internet, participated in reputable website chat rooms of parents with kids who had far worse hemangiomas than we had.  We had laser treatments which did very little.  The first year of dealing with this was stressful for me at best.  People asked about it incessantly... even now I can recall so many of their comments. Parents and kids alike would ask what it was.  Sadie's hemangioma has a deep and a surface component, so at its largest it looked like she might be holding a golf-ball in her cheek. And as luck would have it, that was how it looked when she smiled for the camera.  And we all like to smile.

I firmly believe that God gave us a reminder to chill out about it when Sadie was just over a year and she met the girl who became her best friend, Bella.  They met in McDonald's of all places, with their nannies (neither of which are their nannies now, but their nannies now are close close friends as well). They were born two days apart in the same hospital, so both girls like to say how they actually met in the hospital nursery. And they both have hemangiomas on their same left cheeks. They aren't identical in size or type, but they certainly make them a unique duo.

And through the gift of friendship with this girl and her family, along with the passage of time and my growing confidence as a mother, and the growth of Sadie's vibrant personality, the birthmark has shrank both literally and figuratively. This family has become so much more than the family of another child with a birthmark, but it was how we met because the girls as babies really were identical.

We saw our dermatologist twice a year and saw a plastic surgeon every other year or so over the years. And everyone agreed to just watch to see how it would fade. Hemangiomas are supposed to go away on their own, about 10% a year, so 10% of kids lose them by 1 year of age, 20% by 2 years of age, 30% by 3 years of age and so on. Some doctors say to have them surgically removed on infants especially when they are large or on the face, others say to wait it out and see what happens after a few years. There are pros and cons to operating early or later, or not at all, all too complex for this blog.  Suffice it to say that our dermatologist and surgeon have said that Sadie's will never fully disappear and both recommend surgery. And our pediatrician (as well as our ENT, who we didn't ask for his thoughts but he volunteered them anyway last summer) have said "kids will be cruel" and we should get it removed before she starts kindergarten.

So yesterday we saw the plastic surgeon for a check up and he recommended removal in the early spring. Simple outpatient procedure he calls it, under anesthesia for about an hour, stitches and a scar. He will debulk the bump underneath and take off the birthmark on the top.  All of this was said, for the first time, in front of Sadie.

Last night at bedtime, Sadie asked for me to promise that she didn't have to have the surgery. Surgery is scary, it will hurt, I don't want to have to go to sleep. All of these I can deal with. We drive over a scary bridge down a the river, but it is worth it when we eat at our favorite hamburger place. I can promise that it won't hurt, I can promise that I will be there with her when she goes to sleep and when she wakes up. All of these things are matter-of-facts, and I can deal with them.

But you said that I was beautiful and special with my birthmark. I don't want it to go away. I want it to stay forever, or at least let it go away slowly on its own. You told me I was special!

Oh, you so are!

This is not an easy choice for Mom and Dad, but I don't tell her that.  I just tell her that she is beautiful and special and that Mommy and Daddy will think about it for awhile and we will do the right thing, whatever it is. Because that is our job, as her parents, and it isn't her job as the child.

How I wish the world was accepting of birthmarks on faces but frankly, they aren't. We flew in first class down to Disneyworld last spring on a 6 am flight and the first words out of our flight attendant to us was "What happened to her face?" So much for a great kickoff to our first flight and the world of magic and wonder. It just doesn't work that way. Sadie is a social confident outgoing girl. If anyone could handle a birthmark on her life, she could. But do I want her to be subject to the questions and comments when we can easily make it easier for her?  Is it truly easy surgery?  Our surgeon is confident. But could I live with myself if I chose this cosmetic option and something went wrong?

Interestingly, both Mark and I have a niece (on my side) and a nephew (on Mark's side) who have had a birthmark removed from their faces. One was a hemangioma that wouldn't stop ulcerating so they had it removed when she was under 2 years. One was a true mole that was large and they had it removed when he was 5 or 6.  I don't think either of their parents regret the surgeries they had for their children. But it doesn't make the late night questions and answers easier.  I can't protect her from everything in this world, nor should I. But my job is to build her foundation and belief in herself. I feel like I have contradicted myself in what I said to her, and I hate that.

So I ask for your prayers. There is no right or wrong answer.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Fast Forward... Now Slow Down

August and September blew by this year without any posts. Daisy seems to have gotten past her bout with mortality and is living each day to the fullest.  Sticking to her wheat-free-hypo-allergenic dog food has been relatively easy for us. We made her grass fed beef and rice mini-meatloaves shaped into dog-paw shapes for her 10th birthday on September 11 and all of us ate them for dinner!  We know that we are on some borrowed time with her - as whatever it was that caused the dramatic increase in pancreatic enzymes and the enlarged adenoid is still there. But we are grateful for each day and hopeful that she will be with us a few more years.  She makes her way up to Sadie's room every night for stories at 7:30 and often will stay there, asleep next to Sadie's bed, until Daisy may wander into our room when we go to bed. There is nothing like the feeling that one gets when you crack the door to check on your little human at 10:30 at night, and you can see her pet companion raise her own head, as if to say "All is fine, you don't need to check on us... I will guard her" just with her own bloodshot and tired eyes.  Daisy has lived up to her birthright as she was born on September 11, 2011. She is indeed a very special dog.

We survived an earthquake and a hurricane in Richmond VA. And we squeezed in a last trip to the beach and stayed with Mark's brother and his family who were just a block from our dear friends, the Littles, so Sadie enjoyed beach days with her best friend Isabella. Watching these girls who were born just two days apart, both with identical birthmarks, grow up has been remarkable. They have been each other's constant companions for so many years -- and now have turned into these little ladies with plenty of sass!  The Littles are God's answer to Mark and I not being able to give Sadie a family of many siblings. She loves the hectic chaos that is in their house, and yet appreciates coming home to our peace and quiet at the end of the day. And we love them for it!

Sadie's last year at First Baptist started in early September and we have been rolling through the weeks with a whole new set of rules with Pre-K. She is loving all the new responsibility that comes with being one of the "Pre-K Kids", including crossing the street to go to a new playground, having her lunch at school, carrying her own tote bag, and writing a ton more.  Every day there is some new discovery. She is a reporter, always full of details on what happened during the day during dinnertime with Mark and me. She has a keen sense of humor. She's a list maker --- I am constantly spelling words for her so she can write them down. She makes us laugh. And she makes us grateful. Four and a half is my favorite age ever (but I will admit at saying that at a lot of other ages too).

And now we are upon our favorite time of the year. Sadie has joined me in a true love of the lead-time for Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas. We are fully into reading holiday books and listening to Christmas music whenever we can. We have great plans to decorate this year. Our house on Monument Avenue will shine with lights of every sort and every color as Sadie has designed new specs for lots of decorations. And we are new owners of a small pad in Urbanna, Virginia where we will hopefully stash some decorations to use for the holidays too. It is all so exciting and thrilling!

We visited with my parents this weekend and we are anticipating my mom's 70th birthday on Halloween. It was a great visit, full of laughter. And all of the Misage kids and grandkids will be together for Thanksgiving this year.  We are lucky to have my parents doing so well. Unfortunately, we continue to be saddened by Mark's mother's battle with Alzheimer's and, added to that, the dramatic decisions that his father makes in his own sort of vacuum.  The stress of the latter has been unlike any I have ever known. We continue to pray for some resolution there, and try to preserve our marriage and our nuclear family in the meantime.  I never expected how hard it would be to balance giving so much to your own child and to also watch horrible things happening to your spouse's parents.  Mark's mother has been a saint. I realize how good my own marriage is, probably in large part due to the sense of consideration and understanding with which she raised my husband, her son. We try to pass along who she was to Sadie, and shield her from all the ugliness that is happening at present. As she gets older, that is getting harder and harder.

And so, we focus on the holidays. This little girl that we waited for so impatiently in our marriage... she now is developing at lightening speed.  She greets the days and the seasons with joyful anticipation. I try to learn from her and have her optimism.  We will enjoy the last quarter of 2011 and try not to worry about all that we can't control.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Noises in the Night

I was lying awake at 1 a.m. last night listening to the noises around me.

At the foot of our bed in her sleeping bag was Sadie. She comes in every night to sleep in our room. She used to come into our bed, a habit that grew much more common this summer. Someone gave me the idea to insist that she sleep in a sleeping bag, thinking that sleeping on the floor would lose its appeal soon enough and she would be back to her wonderful bed in no time. It has had the opposite effect, and now she wonders down around 9:30 pm. She doesn't want to be alone, she says, when the rest of her family sleeps in one room.

Next to Mark's side of the bed was Daisy on her dog bed. For much of the summer, Daisy had not been coming to sleep in our room where she traditionally slept. I would find her on the bathroom floor most of the time and thought that she must have chosen that place because she was hot. More and more often the last few weeks she wouldn't make it up the stairs at all and would sleep down in the den. But after our scary brush with death last week, she has been coming up to our room the last two nights and taken her old place in her dog bed next to us.  She is acting younger and healthier just the last two days. Like our old dog again. But this is making us realize that she really was different this summer.  Except for  our week at the beach, Daisy grew much older this summer.

So there we are, a family of four in a 5200 square foot house, all sleeping in a 7 foot by 7 foot square.

And then, all of the sudden, Sadie started laughing in her sleep. Giggling away. I sat up and peered over at her but her eyes were still closed, and she tightly held her blankie and bunny that have been her companions for life. But her face was lit up in happiness.  What was she dreaming, I wondered. It went on for more than a minute. She was so joyful.

I looked over at Daisy then, and she too was awake watching this. My ever present companion, she has always woken with me in the middle of the night. When Sadie was an infant, Daisy woke up for every feeding with me, coming downstairs to make the bottles and then up again with me to give them to her. Guarding us from what? Loneliness maybe? Solitude? Fear?  There is a reason why the yellow lab is the most popular dog in America. She has never chosen her own needs over the needs of her family. She is ever devoted to Sadie, Mark and me. She watched the laughter, and looked at me for a few minutes. She waited until I laid back down before she resettled herself. Now her head was facing Sadie's body. I bet she watched for longer like that.

Today, we don't know what the future holds for Daisy. The past two days, she has acted almost completely normal with us, full of smiles and tail wagging. But this morning she had a bit more blood in her poop. And she wanted to lay outside instead of coming in to eat. Could she sense that we were out of ground beef and she would only get chicken breast with her rice?  Of course not Daisy girl, we will just need to defrost some more for tonight. You will have steak, I told her!  She eventually came in.  We have a vet appointment on Friday for some more tests. Perhaps I should bring her in today with the appearance of more blood, I think my discharge instructions say to do so. But she hated the vet. She needs a break I rationalize. She will be fine at home with us for a few more days.

Sadie said to me this morning over breakfast, matter-of-factly "Daisy knows she is going to die soon."  I feel my heart breaking. We don't know that, I want to say --  we will get some treatment, she may be fine, she is only ten, if she has Cushing's, she might be able to have treatment and live another 3-4 years, I want to say. Then I see that Sadie has gotten down from her chair and is laying on the floor next to Daisy and Daisy gives her a lick on her cheek. I start packing my lunch and can see out of the corner of my eye that Sadie is sneaking Daisy cheerios from her bowl one by one. "Don't tell Mommy" she whispers. I just look away. Surely Cheerios don't violate the bland diet instruction.

We will make it. Tonight I will lay awake longer and thank God again for my blessings, all right beside me in the small space together. We will make it. Mark and I raise good caring loving beings, one human and one furry. We will make it.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Good Enough.

Last night, I started a book that I truly believe is going to be fabulous. Just 50 pages into it and I was trying to wake up my sleeping husband with by gleeful revelation that finally I have discovered it is OK to feel the way I do.  He didn't really seem too excited, and continued falling asleep. So this morning when we both woke up, I immediately tried to explain the main concepts of the book as I understood them. The problem was that I could not, at 6:30 am, remember the names of the two groups into which the authors had divided mothers who are working professionally outside the home. I grabbed the book to find the terms, but despite the bright light in our bedroom and me locating the correct page, I could not read the words on the page!!  Another added bonus of motherhood in my 40s -- I can't read fine print for the first 20 minutes of waking up. I couldn't even find the reading glasses.

Now several hours later, I can recall the two groups... it is something like the Always Perfects and the Good Enoughs. They did a study and determined that the Always Perfects are pretty miserable and the Good Enoughs are pretty darn happy.

Like a lot of the women featured in the book, I used to be a classic Always Perfect. I fundamentally believe that the private practice of law in large firms grooms women to be this way - it is likely in the drinking water.  As a transactional attorney, we were expected to work through the night when a deal so dictated, and fight for the smallest detailed points, such as where a comma goes in a a document. I laugh now when I think back to a several hour debate that we once were embroiled in at the printer over the use of the words presently and currently (for the curious among you, they don't mean the same thing). I was the perfect keeper of every last detail. It isn't like our profession lacked times of fun and laughter too, but the expectation was pure and absolute dedication, whatever time the day or night a client needed you.

When I first had Sadie, I tried to continue my Always Perfect personality at work. And I attempted to bring it home too. And slowly but surely, I kept falling short.

I couldn't fix Sadie's birthmark on her face over my maternity leave, notwithstanding that I researched the issue for hours upon hours a day. I couldn't fix projectile vomiting problem either, notwithstanding that I stood in line outside the Babies R Us before it opened after determining that perhaps the slow flow nipple was too slow and the fast flow nipple was too fast and thus that very moment I needed to find and buy some medium flow nipples to solve this issue. I couldn't fix her sleep issues that began at six months notwithstanding that I have bought every sleep book (and even bought a few of them twice, having thrown away the first copy one night when my kid was crying it out and I was having an emotional breakdown).  While I personally thought mothers who made their own baby food were obsessed and had too much time on their hands,  there were several times when I went ballistic on Mark for buying Sadie's diapers at the grocery store instead of the Target across town which had them $0.50 cheaper with the coupon that I had cut out. 

The more I tried to control everything around me at home, the more everything was falling out of my control. And the more I tried to get back on the train of being the super-star girl lawyer that I had been to as a partner at the firm, the more I felt like I was failing Sadie.  Great - I was a failure at home and at work.  Now what?

It seemed so obvious when I read about it in this book last night!

As opposed to the Always Perfects, there is a breed of much happier working professional mothers that are the Good Enoughs. And a year after I have moved firms and gone part-time, I think in this group is where I finally am located.  (Though I will admit, this morning when I begged for verification from Mark "I am in the Good Enough group, right? Listen to me Mark. Right? Right? That is me now, Right??" So I might still have some obsessive tendencies).

The Good Enoughs, have re-set their own bars measuring success so they can actually meet them. It isn't about settling for less than you want, it is about adjusting your wants so you will succeed and be happy with yourself.

Sadie slept in her bed all night last night (instead of the sleeping bag in our room where she has been since we returned from vacation). Big milestone for my girl, who has been in and out of our bed 95% of the nights for the last 2 years. So quickly I run to the shelf in our laundry closet where I keep a stash of presents for birthday parties, new coloring books, etc. for these moments, and I pull out a set of unopened Brain Quest for 4-5 year olds. Sadie was never crazy about the set we used a year ago (3-4 year olds perhaps) but honestly, our gift shelf is pretty depleted right now. So they were waiting for her at breakfast.

She ate a microwaved leftover pancake for breakfast that I had folded into a sandwich and filled with peanut butter. Success for my quest to get some protein into her, since they don't give morning snacks at her camps and fun at camp is wholly dependent, we have learned, on her eating a solid breakfast. Breakfast ended, time for Mommy to go take a shower.

But she wanted to do the Brain Quest cards.

Sure we have time for a few, and a few we did. No, she wanted to do them all. And she was good at them. How much harm can this be? I said to myself. I am not with her all day, and all she is asking is for a little more time with her mother. My hair is longer now, it doesn't need to be washed every day. And I haven't put on a stitch of make-up other than daily lipstick since I got married 7 years ago I think (how sad is that). So my getting ready routine can be shortened.

So we sat there and played with the cards until we had exactly 12 minutes for both of us to get dressed and get our bags packed to leave for camp, and then me for work thereafter. We made it. I took a speedy shower and Sadie did her own hair. It was good enough.

After I dropped Sadie at camp, I hit the newly remodeled Kroger to grab a few things we were out of and something for dinner. While I was there, I got an email from one of my co-workers saying "Before I come up to meet with you this morning, I wanted to tell you I was wearing my Talbot's green skirt in case you were wearing yours too."  I didn't respond.  The Almost Perfect in me would have felt guilty that here she was working while I was at the grocery store, and would have responded that indeed I wasn't wearing the green skirt, but did we have a meeting scheduled? The Good Enough in me was 90% sure we had nothing scheduled, and was 100% happy that I could grab something from Kroger this morning instead of fighting the traffic this direction to get there tonight after work but before dinner. It was 8:45. I happily went on my way, and my refrigerated groceries are in their bag down in the firm's refrigerator on 2 now, from which I will grab them and head home tonight. We didn't have a meeting, she just had a question. Which I answered 90 minutes after she emailed.  It feels good enough.

There are so many things in life that I can't control right now. Sadie's birthmark and whether or not we should operate. Mark's parents' health and the demands of time that is taken from him to deal with way too many issues.  Where Sadie will get into kindergarten, and if several places, which one would be best suited for her.  The real estate market in Richmond, which governs where we live right now.  My lack of friends at my new office. And my inability to effectively carve out time for most of my old friends.

But if I open my eyes and look, there are far more things that are given to me as opportunities for success. An ability to walk with Daisy after Sadie has gone to sleep and feel the cold front coming in after a few scorching days.  Time to play games with Sadie in the morning.  Not washing my hair and having ten extra minutes. Grocery shopping on the way to work. Exercising every day during lunch.  Those things I am wildly successful at. I have exceeded my wildest expectation on how to make do, fly by the seat of my pants, get what matters done. Those are my successes these days.

Sadie has the Misage family genes for anxiety and I sense that she will go through an Always Perfect phase. While she loves to hear the story of her birth, a few weeks ago she got very upset upon thinking of having a baby cut out of her tummy one day. Last week she told me right before she fell asleep "I wish I was a boy."  Oooh, gender identification issues already at 4, I wondered.  But when I asked why, her answer was "Because boys don't have to have babies, and I don't want to have babies. "You don't have to have any babies if you don't want to... You have many years to decide... That is not going to happen for a long long time."  "Like 100 years?" she asked me. "Close to that," I told her, "Why are you worried about it now?"  "Because I don't want the doctor to have to cut the baby out of me" she responded. "By the time you have a baby, in 100 years or so Sadie, the doctors will have invented a new way to get babies out of their mommies that don't hurt at all, so there is no use worrying about it now." I told her.

She was quiet for a few minutes and said "You mean like... out of my hand like this?" and she motioned her hand as if to be sprinkling something out of it. "Just like magic fairy dust?" she asked. "Yes" I said, "they will probably figure out a way that a doctor can help you sprinkle the baby out of your hand just like you sprinkle the magic fairy dust!" I told her.

Maybe an exaggeration, but good enough.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Perfection

What a wonderful time we had at the beach this year.

Going to Duck, NC is something that Mark and I have done since we started dating. He went to Southern Shores just south of Duck as a young child with his family, and I spent a week at the Outer Banks every year with friends from college too. So our dedication runs deep. There is a particular sensation that we get just driving across the Wright Brother Bridge onto the island that I can close my eyes and imagine, even in the dead of winter.  It is our happy place.  It centers us.

We took Sadie when she was just 6 months old, and she loved it of course... she learned to sit up in the soft sand and even more so, the Bermuda grass in our front yard (something we don't have living on Monument Avenue in Richmond). Mark and I missed the relaxation that we had counted on for all of our previous trips, the long bike rides on the trail, the dinners out at Blue Point, walks up and down the beach whenever we wanted.  But we took Sadie again, of course, when she was 18 months old and she dug and dug for hours... happy to entertain herself with the monotony of this experience and allow us some peace too. And we went again when she was nearly 2 and a half. This time, she needed closer supervision as she ran in the waves and threw ball to Daisy for hours on end. It was still relaxing for us though, as we had lots of family members and friends who came with us. And then we went last year when she was 3 and a half.  She loved the pool and the beach, but was far from a swimmer in her water wings. She dug sand holes and filled buckets but counted on Mark and me to actually construct the castles.  We never complained.

This year was different even still. Our near 4 and a half year old is entirely self sufficient in a pool and has no fear of the ocean at all. She builds her own castles, and even perfected Mark's famous "drippy sand castles" technique after 30 minutes of watching him and spent hours upon hours making them. I could sit in my beach chair and converse with my sisters and our friends, while Mark was kayaking and know that Sadie was having fun. She was thrilled to play with her older cousins and older friends and she no longer me hovering over her to protect her from anything.  She would call "Watch this Mom!" 1,000 times a day.

We ate lots of seafood dip from Dockside in Duck and boxes of Wheat Thins every night. Mark made lizard drinks with the blender lots of nights. We drank lots of wine. We grilled out and ate dinner at 6:45 instead of 5:45, and bedtime was never a struggle. We woke with the sun and had coffee and Duck Donuts or eggs and leftover shrimp every day. We watched the dolphins from our living room window. We collected shells and walked along the beach for long stretches. I was able to run five days on the sand in low tide, it was amazing. We just enjoyed every moment.

It was perfect this year.

So perfect that being back just sucks. Sadie's having a tough time readjusting to camp. And I am having a tough time readjusting to life. Just walking Daisy at night around the Fan is unbearable when I compare it in my mind to our walks at dusk up and down our street at the beach, no leash in hand, no alleys and trash and broken glass that abounds in our Fan life.  The drama of Mark's "sandwich generation" life is in full force again and the phone rings incessantly at night. Hurtful emails. Division. Work is busy.

I love vacation. But taking one does make it harder to come back.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Donuts and Diving Boards

Twice in the past couple of weeks I have been stricken by the realization that my daughter doesn't know all of me. It bewilders me that I could birth this being and give her 100% of my emotions, and probably 97% of my body's energy since she was conceived, and have moments where I realize that she doesn't know me equally as well as I know her. After all, I know all of her, I know every crevice of her 43 inch body... to the point of knowing which of her teeth will be easier to floss because of the different size of the gaps between them. I can tell by just glancing at her if her expression is saying "I am starting to get an ear infection" or "my feelings are hurt" or "I need some protein for energy" or "I need to go tinkle."  I feel like I wake up often an instant before she does, as if my umbilical chord is still there, I still can sense her.  When she went to camp yesterday, even without a quiver of her lip, I could tell by the look in her eyes that she was scared to be there without a friend. And when she got out of the car today, I could tell from her eyes that she was confident and ready to try it again and hopefully have a good day.

But it does strike me me when we discover that there are things that she doesn't know about me. Sometimes it is reference to people, such as the family friends that I grew up with, and Sadie will say "who is that?" And I am shocked that she lives a life not knowing exactly how formative my best friends from growing up in Mt. Vernon were, my first crush at Mansion House, the friendships with the priests at Good Shepherd Church, people like my aunts and uncles, or my brother Scott because he doesn't visit ever (hint hint), or so many other people that I knew and cherish in my heart but don't see now.

Surely a child can't learn everything about a parent's past, especially at the age of 4. But it is the things in the present that tickle me even more. Sometimes she will say things that confirm in my mind that 4 year olds are truly highly egotistical creatures who think that if they didn't see their mother do something, then it just didn't happen.

A humorous recent example involved Krispy Kreme donuts, an institution here in Richmond, and in Winston-Salem where I went to law school, and in Mt. Vernon where I grew up. I am thinking I would be hard pressed to find a friend, coworker, or acquaintance who knows me in real life who would not know how much I love to eat sweets. That I have been battling the same 10 lbs since I was about 14 (OK, those that knew me in high school or immediately past birth will know that it was more than 10 lbs.) -- and the obvious reason why I can easily run seven miles, or work out every day during lunch, or train for marathons, and yet still not be able to lose those 10 lbs is that I love to eat. And I am not talking about vegetables.

A friend of mine was talking to me at the pool last weekend and we were saying how much we love going down to Captain Franks in Nags Head when we are vacationing at the Outer Banks, and she said "The trouble with that place is, I eat my hot dog and I find it very hard to stop at one dog... I always really want to order a second one but I don't."  That's the difference between her and me. Mark who heard the conversation laughed... because when he and I got to Captain Franks, I order two hot dogs off the bat and then casually ask him if I worked out enough to deserve a third that day (to which he is mortified, and says "Please don't eat more hot dogs than me in front of all of these people.")  I love their hot dogs. But I love desserts more. And I love Krispy Kreme donuts a lot.

My breakfasts at home are Greek yogurt with toasted oats sprinkled on top. Every day of Sadie's life, I think, I have had this breakfast. When naming my favorite food, Sadie will say it is oats. How pathetic is that? But she believes it to be true.

She and Mark have a Saturday morning routine that they call Daddy Daughter [and often Daisy] Donut Date. They head  out at the same time I leave for my long run, and they hit Krispy Kreme. I don't go with them. And I don't ask what they order. Somehow 90 minutes passes, they get Daisy exercised at some park along the way, and I get my run and shower accomplished, and then our day carries on. I don't ask, and they don't volunteer any of the details -- it is just their thing.  And I like that they have their thing. I have never asked to join, as donuts are much easier to avoid when you don't see them.

One day a couple of weeks ago, Mark needed to spend the morning with his dad again in Williamsburg. So he got up at 6 am or something like that, and he went to get hot donuts and have them at home by the time Sadie awakened. She was ecstatic to discover this, and they happily munched on their warm donuts as I was getting ready to leave for my run. There were two donuts left in the box that I noticed as I was getting ready to throw the box away. Sadie suggested "Mommy, those are for you, you should have those donuts."  I was ready to decline. In fact, I was declining loudly in my head. But they were still warm. And they smelled so good.

So on a whim of sorts, I said "OK, I will." and I sat down with a donut and my daughter and her Daddy to eat it. I took one bite and Sadie grinned and said to me "Do you like it Mommy? This is the first time you have ever had a donut!"  Mark and I almost choked at this. I almost responded with "Sadie, Mommy has probably had 500 of these donuts over the years" but I don't think she would have believed it. It just makes me laugh... that anyone who spends as much time with me as she does actually believes that I had never had a donut before.  I did manage to throw the second donut away, by the way.

Another funny occurrence was last weekend at the pool. Sadie loves to watch the kids go off the two low diving boards that are there. They do regular jumps, or flips, or cannon-balls, and she just loves watching them. She has begun to ask when she will be old enough to go off the boards, but then she answers her own question with "When I am 10. Then I will be able to do it."  She is scared, and while some of her four year old friends do it, she can't imagine that she will be ready for many years. As we were having this conversation (rather, as she was having this conversation out loud with herself)... she said to me "Well I can't go off the board Mommy, because you can't go off of a diving board either, and we can only do the same things."

This is her logic for why Mark can eat hot sauce ("Mommy and I don't like hot sauce, do we Mommy?") and many other things these days. More evidence of Team Mommy and Sadie.

But I couldn't let that one rest. "Mommy can go off the diving board", I told her "I did it all the time when I was younger."  She was stunned. Visibly, like mouth opened stunned. Not like an "I dare you Mommy" grin, but she honestly did not believe this could be true.

So I had to show her.

Out of the three feet I climbed and I walked around to the 10 feet. Up the ladder and I walked down the long board. It wobbled and shook. Two thoughts crossed my mind instantly as I stood there. The first was that I didn't think I had been on any sort of diving board in about 24 years- the summer I turned 18 and stopped spending every minute at Mansion House pool. The second was remembering walking on the high-diving board at Mansion House one time when I was about 6, with my brother behind me on the ladder, as I begged him to let me get off and climb back down the ladder. I remember vividly the images of the other kids waiting on the ladder stairs or in the line and wanting so badly to be down there instead of up top. I must have jumped into the water from there, as I know that my brother would not have let me chicken out. I don't recall the jump at all, I just remember looking down the ladder and wishing that I wasn't where I was.

The same feeling, amazingly, came over me on the low diving board at Willow Oaks. There were a host of other boys and girls, all somewhere between 5-10 like I had been, waiting in line behind me. And I thought "this is silly, I can just climb down the stairs and not go now" as I was on the board at 42. But I could look out to the three feet and even with my recent nearsightedness, I could see Sadie and Mark watching me, cheering for me. And I thought "What kind of signal would I send to this child of mine if I chickened out?"  I would do it of course. Because, after all, she thought that I couldn't do it. And she needed to be reminded that she, like me, could do anything she wanted to.

So I jumped off the diving board. 25 plus years after I had done it last, off of some measly low diving board, I overcame my silly fear and jumped. And the water rushed in my head... it was like my ears had just opened up and I could feel all the water pressure in there. And I did what I did as a kid and went all the way to the bottom and touched it with my feet and then pushed back up.  I felt both very young and very old at the same time. It was very momentous.

Being a mom to a newborn was physically hard. My life immediately had become someone else's and not my own, and that was physically exhausting.

But now, the challenges of being a mom to a four year old are also difficult. I should be able to decline having donuts and have whatever I want to eat for breakfast, for goodness sake. But I want to send a signal to her that no foods are off limits, that everything is OK in moderation, that I have self control and so does she, and that I work hard enough to have treats every once in awhile for goodness sake. I want to prove to her that she doesn't know everything, and that just because she didn't see it happen doesn't mean it isn't true. I want to teach her faith. I want to teach her that her mother can jump off a diving board, just like I can go to a meeting and she can go to a new camp where she has no friends and still make friends. I want to teach her what it is like to fail and to succeed. To try and to decline. That there are some times that you can chicken out and that's OK.

And that there are some times that you need to just jump.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Sometimes I Can't Figure Out How I Got Here

This week has been one of those weeks. After the high drama of Sadie learning to swim last week, this week had a more normal schedule. Sadie's been in a wonderful ballet camp every day from 9-12 so our mornings are more like they were when she was in preschool, and we get motivated and get going earlier.  We are back in our normal routine.  Well, that assumes that anything is "normal" these days.

Yesterday I was talking to a woman who works at my old firm. While there, I was on the recruiting committee and this woman came through as a summer associate sometime back when I was a senior associate and then a new partner. She was clearly a top recruit. She had passion for an area of the law, and she was an extremely hard worker and a great team player. She also had a great personality, very social, loved animals, loved running and all sports. I felt like I was looking in the mirror to my slightly younger (and blonder) version.  Sometime after I had Sadie, she had her first child, a son. And since then, she has also had a second son.  Before we had children, we had a lot of fun cocktail party chats, or talks about our mutual passion for animals or sports.

But yesterday, in our short catch up call, we both were echoing the same sentiment. How did our life get to where it is?  And didn't we think it was going to be easier?

Both of us have dear husbands who are hugely committed to large tasks right now that take them outside of our nuclear families.  Hers is running for political office. And mine is deeply entrenched in a combined care giving and estate advisor role for his parents, balancing multiple, conflicting and highly emotional views every night it seems.  Both my friend and I were saying that as the wife, mom, primary caregiver of young children, and employee -- we can't seem to get our own bearings straight.  And yet, we aren't allowed to fail.  We barely are allowed to rest, let alone fail. 

No one in their right mind wouldn't support our husbands in the external roles that they have. Public service is admirable. And my husband's care for his parents -- I would want to do the same for my own, and hope that Sadie will do it for us one day. But there is someone in the background holding the daily life together. And that job is exhausting.

Mark and I are getting ready to celebrate our 7th anniversary this weekend. My wonderful Aunt Claudia sent us a anniversary card a few weeks ago that has been propped up on our island since it arrived. She wrote something like "Lucky 7, what a year it will be!" inside.

Humph, I tend to think when I see the card every day.  I adore my husband, don't get me wrong. Someone asked me the other day if, knowing what I know now, I would do it all over again, and without hesitation, yes!  I loved getting married to Mark, I can still feel the excitement of that day. And without hesitation, I love the experience of motherhood to the daughter that my husband gave me. All the sleepless nights and all the daily drama has been worth it.  My husband is a character, and I knew his personality for nine years before we married.  I love the person that he is, without hesitation.  With less, I would be bored.

But it is hard. It is far more difficult balancing roles than I thought it would be. I watched women "balance" working and motherhood for my early career and my conclusion now is that they did a superb job of hiding the anxiety that seems to overcome a lot of my days. At my early stages of motherhood, I wondered if they had some secret remedy that they would share with me that would make this any easier. Even last year, I thought that part-time work was the answer... balance would come easier when I had more time with Sadie and less time at work.  But it is funny -- this year it is not the job that has created the stress, it is all the other stuff. And less time at work means more time at all the other stuff.

Everything has consequences now, and nothing has easy answers. Mark's parent's situation is so very difficult, but far from black and white. And in the meantime, Sadie is the most skilled observer, asking the hard questions. Reacting to the stress. Wanting reassurance, and yet wanting to fly herself.  Next Fall we will be making decisions about which school will be best for her from K-12th grade. While Mark deals with so many external issues right now, the school research has become my focus. No decision is easy, or clear.

Those women who I used to think made motherhood look easy, do they write notes on their hands daily, pay their estimated taxes a day late, determine that they could pass another day without a shower without seriously offending someone, and decide that indeed, eating bag of goldfish while cleaning up the kitchen at night does make you feel better?  Because that is my life. Part time or not, the stresses of each of the roles just do not get easier.

Weeks, months, and now years have gone by since Mark and I got married and started this journey together.  I didn't see how difficult and conflicting this role would be. How I can be the mom that my daughter tells with blind determination that she hates my outfit in the morning, and also calls at 3 pm tearfully telling me that she loves me so much and begging me to come home early. How I am the wife that tells my husband I love him and then watches him on the phone every night and wants to take a frying pan to his head and say "WHO CARES!! This is your daughter, here and now, relish in her and get off the phone!"  How I get to be the mother than goes to Martin's at 9:45 at night to return two containers of milk that was dated July 8th but was clearly sour when we opened it yesterday, then wonder what would happen if I just turned right instead of left out of the parking lot, and drove away, far away, instead of returning home. Would they miss me? Would she brush her teeth instead of me chasing her as she slithers down the hall like a snake every night? Would my husband grab me in an embrace and kiss me like he did before we were married and promise to get off the phone, get off the computer, put away the crossword, and just talk to me?

Sometimes I get tired, very tired, of holding all the pieces together. The roles exhaust me. I hate hearing my own voice count 1-2-3 over and over and over again in the bedtime routine, or asking Mark the same question over and over again while he focuses on the episode of  Criminal Intent. Sure TV is an escape. But I am not allowed an escape, I want to plead. I just read the Parent's Magazine article about the young child who had her lower intestine pulled out by the drain of a baby pool -- isn't this issue more important right now? Don't you want to talk about it, don't you want to call our pool, don't you want to inspect the drains? Aren't you scared, so very scared, that this could be us.  Aren't you terrified like I am that we won't be able to protect her every minute of every day for the rest of her life?  How come you are not scared?  Maybe because you know that I am? That I will monitor things. Because I always do.

I got ready to go to bed, but before I did, I went out to get the recycling container and looked up at the moon. It was huge, like a big ripe honeydew melon just perched atop the trees at the end of our street. For a moment as I was watching it, I wondered if I should wake Sadie up to see it. She would think it was neat, it was so big and bright. She would want to fly there. She would want me to promise that we could, and we would be safe in doing so. We are a team these days, and it would be an adventure, Mommy and Sadie flying to the moon.

But instead I went inside to get Mark and brought him out to see it. And we looked at it together and marveled in it. No easy answers came to us as we were there. The problems and tasks before us, insurmountable as they appear, are still there. But for a few moments we were the team of Mark and Jill again. It doesn't happen often. But it happens enough to remind me of something remarkable.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

She Learned to Swim, and I Learned to Parent

Today I went the watch Sadie on her second to last swim lesson.

The last two days of lessons were dramatic for her, and for me. Tuesday she sobbed the whole lesson, begging Coach Lauren not to make her put her head all the way under, not to make her swim to the wall in a place where she couldn't touch the bottom. She begged me to come closer to where she was, then for a new coach, to let her stop, to let her go home. Tyler, Mark and I mostly sat under an umbrella and watched. This was her second week of lessons and she had mastered the kickboard and kicking, and arm strokes in week one, but this was the week to sink or swim, as the saying goes.  Tyler was openly emotional watching, and worrying. Sadie is her care every day, she lives with the fear of going under, and probably better than me, she lives with watching Sadie want to swim like her best friend and preserve her own sense of value when she was too scared to. Mark was the most stiff lipped; he is the most dedicated to swimming for exercise even now so he values it the most, and yet he was also completely confident that she would learn. I was constantly going back and forth, worrying that we were pushing too hard, and yet not hard enough. Wanting to believe that she could do it, and yet worrying that we had emotionally scarred her with our own confidence in her.  Tuesday was a horrible day for me even after the lesson, I read every article I could find on building confidence in swimming as I worried the whole rest of the day.

And then came Wednesday. Sadie surged forward. There is no more descriptive phrase. She powered through it. She crossed her hurdle and came out the other side with grace and strength and confidence. I watched in disbelief as she tried to swim to the wall over and over again, through a few tears, but insistence that she keep doing it. When I left 45 minutes later, she was supremely confident. And when her best friend's nanny sent me a video four hours later, she was an underwater swimmer, confidently sticking one arm up and waving it toward the camera. The movie playing mechanism that we have on our work computers don't play sound, but I could read everyone's lips. It was like an old Wonder Years episode, I could see the nannies shouting how proud they were of her, I could see Sadie mouthing "Hi Mama... Watch me!" as she dunked herself down to swim over and over again. I watched the video 20 times I bet, over and over again. Tears of pride running down my face. I forwarded it to good friends and relatives and relished in their reply emails of praise.

So today I arrived at the pool to watch the second to last lesson and just tell Sadie again how proud I was of her. Tyler pulled me aside immediately and said that Sadie had been really quiet, and upset this morning. She then came running to me and started sobbing. Fear, I wondered, that she couldn't do it again? Too much pressure? Did we make too big of a deal? Too much praise?

What she told me, and she had told this to Tyler too, was that she was sad that this was the second to last lesson with Coach Lauren. The child was an emotional basket case that this journey was almost over.  Tyler and I were immediately overcome as well. Watching Sadie just sob at this prospect was too much.

I never really understood how hard parenting would be. While I am not minimizing the sleep deprivation and times of dealing with a sick baby, both of which we experienced and lamented during, I find the parenting of the last three days harder in many ways. The instinct to want so badly to not have your child emotionally hurt. To want them to succeed, and yet to not want to push them too hard. When Sadie mastered going under repeatedly yesterday and not crying, there wasn't a person in the pool area who didn't know it. Because I was screaming, I was jumping, I was hugging her, I was crying.

Can you praise too much? Some parents probably think so, and they might think that I am over the top. But I personally don't think so. I ran two marathons several years ago, and what got me through each accomplishment was the cheers from the crowd every step along the way. This week was Sadie's marathon, and I have no doubt that seeing her mother sweating in her work clothes in the 95 degree heat at the pool showing her two thumbs up and clapping every time she came out of the water helped her feel confidence. Will I be there ever step of the way? Is that helicopter parenting? I don't think so. Sadie and I are social creatures. There are people that succeed based on their own inner drive, and more power to them. We are not them though. We succeed based on the feedback from friends and loved ones. We get our energy and drive from others. That's the E in Extrovert I think, and that's who we are.

My parents were a lot like this.  Someone was always at our sporting events. My mother was always active in our schools. I didn't appreciate then their praise, but I see now that just being there is a form of support that a lot of kids don't have. On days like today, it would have been easier for me to stay at work, kill down-time on facebook, it is 100 degrees outside, is there any doubt that climate control is the way to go? But these events, I try not to miss them. I took this job so I could be there. I had a child so I could be there. Sure I need my breaks and my downtime, but I wouldn't trade the moments of watching her this week for anything.

As much as Sadie learned to swim this week, I became more confident in my parenting style. And as she left the pool to go to Chick Fil A for a big chocolate milkshake and some downtime before going to her friend Bella's pool later today, I got in my car to come back to work.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

A Whole New (Wednes)Day

I am never hesitant to say how much I love Wednesdays. Wednesdays are one of my two part-time days, and for the past year, I have taken the morning off. I wake up knowing that it doesn't matter what I put on or how my hair looks. I don't rush to make my coffee or hurry myself into the shower. I have more patience with Sadie and with Daisy. After dropping Sadie off at preschool at 9, I go for my long run of the week and usually run 70-80 minutes. Then I come home and take Daisy for some ball throwing or a walk. I play around on the internet a little bit. I dilly dally while taking my shower and getting ready. Sure I look at the piles of projects that need to be done, but I don't think I have spent a Wednesday morning yet accomplishing anything major. It is just a nice slow time. It is time for me.

Tomorrow my Wednesdays will change for the summer, and I am excited. Sadie's school has finished for the summer and while she has 6 weeks of camp starting later this summer, she is largely living the summer of freedom that I still relish in my memories. Swim lessons for this week and for next week. Ballet camp for a week taught by her best friend's nanny. Maybe an art class. And our beach trip. But generally, nothing stressful. And our nanny, who is was nothing short of an answer to our prayers last Fall, has her own life, her own marriage, her own long to-do lists, her own sanity to preserve too. I am thankful that she is motivated by so much more than larger paychecks for more babysitting hours. And so, I am taking Wednesday mornings and Friday afternoons and devoting them solely to Sadie this summer.

I am excited about this honestly. While I need my own time,  I have seen more and more in the past few weeks how Sadie will react to the moods that Mark and I project. She has watched the rocky rides that have pulled Mark out of town on trips twice or three times a week to visit his mom or dad and manage their heathcare issues. She has seen me worry about Daisy, worry about work, worry about the house, worry about her own ears. I have heard her say things about herself being "stressed out" or equating my stress with being super strict like my own mother was.

And I have learned that I can create my own time in windows with Sadie, and windows alone. That's the beauty of being 4. She doesn't ne

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

You asked, I answered.

On my morning off today, I woke up to Sadie in bed next to me, crying that Mark was not there to play with her in the morning. Daisy wanted to go out right away, and Sadie did not. I sent Sadie next door to Gran Fran's, and Daisy and I walked the alley for 10 minutes while Sadie colored at Gran Fran's house. We talked to Daddy on the speaker phone to learn that Granddaddy, who was released from the hospital yesterday after a week there and moved to the nursing home in their assisted living community, was taken back to the ER at the hospital last night for his heart.  Got Sadie out the door to preschool, and went for a 7 mile run. The sun was shining and my run was strong and fast, both rare occurrences for this 3 day a week jogger now. Home to shower and change, took Daisy out for a short walk, threw some tennis balls to her in the alley all the while checking my blackberry. Hit Tropical Smoothie Cafe, which is my Wednesday lunch spot, on my way into work, and met a man who described himself as wearing a blue and white striped shirt at 11:45, at our appointed spot.

My meeting with said man was set up by a call from him to me last week. One of our former neighbors who lived next door to us for a year or so, 3 or 4 years ago, was applying for a Top Secret Security Clearance with the U.S. State Department, and he listed me as a character reference.

This would be fun, I thought. I used to have a Top Secret Clearance when I worked at the State Department back for the summers in college. My brother, my sister in law, and my brother in law also all worked for the Government and all had Top Secret clearances for their jobs. I know what goes into these labels, and I thought it would be neat to be on the other side of the questions.

I met the man at our appointed spot and he shook my hand, promising that our conversation would take between 10 and 15 minutes. He started with his questions -- they were not simple yes or no questions, and I had to think back hard to remember things like what year did I meet our neighbor, what was his job then, etc. I made sure that the interrogator knew that my meeting our neighbor came at the same time as the birth of my child, so I was sleep deprived. I can't remember if I ever knew what he did for a living. He had a dog, we had a dog, he had a child, we had a child, neither child was sleeping so we often talked a lot when we were both drew the lucky straws to walk the dog.

At the end of the interview, the interrogator leaned closer to me and said "Mrs. Webb, I am going to be honest with you here. You seem to be hiding something from me... I have asked you numerous questions and many times, you diverted your eyes from mine and answered by looking away. Is something on your mind? Because this is a matter of national security."  OK, he didn't say that last part, but he clearly insinuated it.

"Is something on my mind?" I answered him, looking straight into his eyes. "Yes, I have a great deal on my mind. But none of it has to do with my old neighbor Albert." 

- My daughter has parent observation at ballet today and her other parent is not going to be there to observe. We did not warn said daughter about this occurrence, which might very well mean that said daughter will refuse to perform or storm out of the room. Neither will look pretty.

- My father in law is in the hospital again, and my husband is very torn between being the son that takes care of his elders and the parent that needs to care for his young one, especially when his wife is tied up at work. I am torn with guilt and resentment. And I am scared, because if it hurts this much to go through it with someone else's parents, how will I survive going through it with my own.

- And I am hungry, because I haven't eaten my smoothie yet. Because I thought it would be impolite to have the smoothie in front of you while you had nothing. But there it is, tucked in my tote bag, melting away, and this makes me very sad.

- And I have to get to work, because I have a memo due that I haven't started on. And while this time last year I was a partner and had people working for me, this time this year I seem only to work for someone else, and no one ever wants to do work for me, and at almost 42 years old, I am not very good at working for someone else and I was actually pretty good at managing people, and this sucks.

- And it is Wednesday, again, which means that the cleaning lady comes tomorrow and I really dislike Wednesday nights cleaning up for the cleaning lady and why oh why oh why cannot I not for the life of me keep our house picked up so I don't have to go through this every freaking Wednesday night. How can I both love Wednesday mornings and hate Wednesday nights. I feel like it is a bipolar day.
- And my sister is probably going to get married, to a guy who she loves, but who lives in Denver and has 2 young children who live in Denver which means we will not see her for Christmas like we always have and she won't travel as much like she always did and will this be our last year at the beach together, and if so, a professional photographer would be nice,  and while I can understand this and be happy for Sadie, I hurt for Sadie, who I really wanted to grow up seeing my sister a lot.

- And speaking of getting a photographer at the beach, I need to price bike rentals down there because we are so loving the bike right now. And why didn't I write that down on a list, that has been something just in my head for the last couple of weeks. And where is my list anyway? Mark's birthday is this weekend and I have done nothing for him. Actually, I did do something, come to think of it, and ordered two batches of things from the internet and they haven't arrived yet. Which means I need to call and follow up on shipping date. What a pain. Why can't anything be easy. And the cake, I need to make a cake. Come to think of it, I really just want to eat cake.

So this is what goes through my mind during this interview. So I divert my eyes to his questions? Yes, I guess I do. I so crave order, and I have relatively none.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Ordinary time.

I love holidays. We decorate for Christmas to the absolute excess, and I listened to Christmas carols from Halloween through the start of March this year (exclusively). I love hosting Thanksgiving dinners for 15, and all the planning and cooking that goes into them. I love the 4th of July decorating traditions that we had growing up in the Misage household. And, we celebrate every birthday we can in our house... even Daisy is never without a cake and numerous cards and presents on her birthday. Now that Sadie is old enough to paint words for banners, we are rarely without one (the banner she made for me for Mother's Day is still draped the length of the dining room table).  If we can have a party, we will have one. We are celebrators. Mark, Sadie and I... we are all extroverted, all loud (well I am the loudest, followed pretty closely by Sadie), and all very happy to be in a hectic social setting.  We are energized from activity.

But recently, I have really craved Ordinary Time. Time to just be. And that time just doesn't seem to come around. It has been one thing after another for the last year or more. We had a nice "respite" for Christmas where everyone was healthy and happy and Sadie slept until 8:45 a lot of mornings, making us wonder what she might have been resting up for. And then, life just took off this Spring.  One ear infection after another for her. Upsetting drama as we saw Mark's parent's health take very real turns for the worse. Even our wonderful vacation to Disney seemed to have no restful moments.  Then we did a Garden Club home tour, and we were worn out.  And really, in the past two weeks, I have wondered when we will have some time to just be still.

But I looked at the calendar today, and saw that we are upon Sadie's last week of school. She will be in Pre-K next Fall, and we will start the process of testing for entrance into private schools. Next Fall we will know where Sadie will go to school from K-12th grade. How scary is that!  And before that, we have swim lessons to schedule, new camps to get prepared for. A trip to the beach which will be fantastic, I am sure. But restful? No way!  My sister Carolyn is bringing her new beau to the beach and all predictions are that they will be engaged and married very soon. More celebrating, more moments to savor. Not moments to sleep through.

Mark was leaving after dinner tonight to head to Williamsburg to see his parents and then to a meeting in Virginia Beach tomorrow. He makes the trek down to Williamsburg 2-3 times a week these days. I am thankful that my own parents are currently in excellent shape health-wise... I am not sure how we would survive dealing with more ailing parents at this stage. But my mother is turning 70 this October. My brother called on Saturday suggesting that we plan a party. Perhaps that will coincide with Carolyn's wedding - wishful thinking - so two gatherings with the Misage family are likely. How fun! How exciting. When to rest? Or rather, what to wear? Can I find a dress like Pippa's by then? Can I find a body like Pippa's by then?

So after dinner, Sadie wanted to finish up some coloring that she was doing on the island. I no longer need to help her with her art... she decides what to do and does it, often with scissors, a glue stick, and a lot of markers and papers. Today she was cutting and decorating a surfboard for a female character that appears to be on Jake and the Neverland Pirates (thank you Disneyworld!). Deep in concentration, she was cutting out a head, a neck, a body, legs, and then finally toes, all to glue on paper where she had glued the surfboard (which was decorated with flower petals). I have never seen this female character (though the theme song for Jake and the Neverland Pirates has been in my head all week), but if she is half the girl my daughter made her to be, she is one lucky surfer!  Bedtime routine is supposed to start at 7:30, and here it was 8:05.

I stopped myself before launching into my "We need to be on-time people, Sadie!" which I seem to say every morning and every night.  Instead, I grabbed the camera from the opposite counter to capture my four year old daughter. This is ordinary time. Lanky legs. A cheerleading costume. The hat I wore to go running last weekend (where was that hat?). A glue stick and some scissors. And her mind going a million miles a minute. She's so independent in her art now, it is hard to believe that she is only 4. She picks out her own clothes, she dresses herself exclusively now. She is her own person. She is no longer mine. She is her own.

Ordinary time. You have to look for it. And it passes too quickly.